In a chapter of The Methods of Ethics entitled “Ultimate Good”, Henry Sidgwick defends hedonism, the theory that pleasure and only pleasure is intrinsically good, that is, good in itself and apart from its consequences. First, however, he argues against the theory that virtue is intrinsically good. Sidgwick considers both a strong version of this theory — that virtue is the only intrinsic good — and a weaker version — that it is one intrinsic good among others. He tries to show that neither version is or can be true.
Against the strong version of the theory, Sidgwick argues as follows. Virtue is a disposition to act rightly, and right action is identified by the good it promotes. (He believes the second, consequentialist premise has been justified by his lengthy critique of nonconsequentialist moralities in Book III of The Methods of Ethics.) But this means that treating virtue as the only intrinsic good involves a “logical circle”: virtue is a disposition to promote what is good, where what is good is itself just a disposition to promote what is good. Virtue turns out to be a disposition to promote virtue.
As Hastings Rashdall notes in a commentary on Sidgwick, one can accept many of this argument's premises yet reject its conclusion. One can agree that right action is identified by its consequences but still hold that virtue is the only intrinsic good. One can do this if one denies that the relevant consequences are good. This is the Stoic view: certain states are “preferred”, and thus supply the criterion of right action, but are not themselves intrinsically good.